Place: cementerio general - La Paz
Guests of honor: skulls
Event: día de las ñatitas
On November 8th, just one week after Todos Santos, the Bolivian go to cemeteries bringing one or several skulls, adorned with flowers, cigarettes, coca leaves... and celebrate the Ñatitas - more specifically in the Andean region but also in other cities such as Cochabamba. The first meaning of the word 'ñatita' is 'small, flat nose', and by extension, the person who's got such a nose. Here, though, a ñatita is something else: a skull.
The ñatitas are said to have powers and make miracles happen. The people who possess one - or more, in certain cases - have to take good care of them in order to make miracles happen and wishes come true. This implies lighting a candle certain days in the week, giving it what it used to like when alive... Regarding the tastes of the ñatitas, all the owners I've met confirmed what I'd read or heard before and they told me that they'd dreamt of their ñatita and knew their name, age, and everything about it. If you don't take care of your skull, then bad things are likely to happen to you. In certain cases, owners who had problems in their lives decided to give their skull to someone, thinking it was the reason of all their troubles.
As to how people get these unusual lucky charms, there are various explanations: some go and pick up the skulls of their relations when the time they paid for them to stay in the cemetery expires. Some just found it in the cemetery as they were wandering, some buy it to the gravedigger - or someone who's already bought it to him - after he's unearthed the remains of the dead who've been there 'long enough'.
Until a few years ago, a mass was celebrated for the ñatitas and a priest blessed them after it. Nowadays, the priest blesses some water and leaves it there at the exit of the church for the parishioners to bless it themselves.
More to come later about Todos Santos and las Ñatitas...